Multimodal education brings that theory up to date to account for the explosion of digital media in the years since. Because digital natives have been immersed in a world of technology throughout their lives, their brains are formed differently and they require a fuller range of representational modes to achieve literacy.

“Their brains are physiologically different than those who didn’t grow up with technology,” says Fitzgerald. Lifelong exposure to interactive media has shaped the way kids make mental connections. The tools teachers use to share information need to account for that process to communicate effectively with digital natives.

Computers rely on interactive text features that incorporate elements of design and visual images to elicit the imaginative, interpretive, dynamic and interactive features of communication. As our society has transitioned from print-based to multimodal reading, the demands of digital media and visual texts mean that students have a new style of coding and decoding text.

In the context of their daily lives, these kids aren’t learning in a linear fashion. Instead, they’re extracting data that comes at them from multiple sources. They crave guidance from an educator who understands that perspective and can help them sort the information in a way that’s meaningful in their world.

“You have so much information at the tips of your fingers today,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s almost like you have to teach them to have a filter. For some kids, it’s just overload. But that overload can actually be good, because it can raise some great questions, [sparking] more global conversations and discussion about far-reaching effects.”

Besides simply engaging the same students differently, hybrid education is able to reach students who have often been ignored using traditional techniques.

No digital native left behind

“What we are doing in the classroom is recognizing the opportunity that comes with this kind of learner,” says Gandhi. With so many students coming through the school doors, it’s been extremely difficult to challenge the kids at the top without losing the kids at the bottom. The hybrid model helps teachers accommodate those gaps. “I can design lessons and have different things available for different groups of students. I don’t have to do 20 assignments on the same topic.”